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200                                                                                                                      B. POLEVOI
Klavdia Mikhailovna stopped at the door; her slim,
graceful figure stood out clearly against the background
of the dark corridor. Meresyev had never suspected that
this quiet nurse, no longer young, could be so femininely
firm and attractive. She stood in the doorway with her
head thrown back and looked at the major as if from a
"Very well," she said. "I will answer you. I do not
love you, and probably will never be able to love you."
She went away. The major flung himself on his bed
and buried his head in the pillow. Meresyev now saw
the reason for the major's strange behaviour during the
past few days, his irritableness and nervousness when the
nurse came into the ward, and his sudden turns from
cheerfulness to outbursts of violent anger.
He must have been enduring real torment. Alexei was
sorry for him and at the same time pleased. When the
major got up from his bed, Alexei could not forgo the
pleasure of teasing him.
"Well, can I spit you in the face, Comrade Major?"
Had he foreseen the effect these words would have
upon the major, he would not have uttered them even in
jest. Struchkov rushed to Alexei's bed and in a voice of
despair shouted:
"Spit! Go on, spit! You will be right. I deserve it.
But what shall I do now? Tell me! Teach me what to
do! You heard us, didn't you?..."
He sat down on the bed, clutching his head in his
hands and swaying his body from side to side.
"Perhaps you think I was having a lark? But I wasn't.
I was serious. I proposed in earnest to that ninny!"
In the evening, Klavdia Mikhailovna came into the
ward on her usual round. As always, she was quiet, kind
and patient. She seemed to radiate repose. She smiled at
Meresyev and also at the major, but looked at the latter
with perplexity, and even fear. Struchkov was sitting at
the window biting his nails, and as the sound of Klavdia
Mikhailovna's footsteps receded down the corridor he
looked after her with an expression of anger mixed with
"Soviet angel!1' he growled. "What fool gave her that
? She's a devil in a nurse's smock!"